Lillian Gibbons wrote about many of Winnipeg’s elegant, historic or unusual houses as well as the interesting people who lived in them from the mid-1930s to the early 1960s.
One of her stories was about a most unusual house in the North End known as The Castle.
Located at 494 College Ave., The Castle has definitely seen grander days but it is still striking and stands out on the street as a reminder of the huge and elaborately designed mansion it once was.
"Everybody calls it The Castle," wrote Gibbons in 1953. "It has pinnacles and round towers and is pink and white like the castles in the Middle Ages."
More of a reddish colour now, it was built in 1906 by Ernest Marchetti and Joseph Biollo, according to Gibbons. The Henderson’s City of Winnipeg Street and Avenue Guide for 1907 lists several homes in the area as belonging to Joseph Biollo and Ernest Marchetti.
Gibbons also quotes a Rev. J. F. Plischke, who was ordained in the St. Joseph’s German Catholic Church across the street from the Castle House, as saying that he watched the house being built in 1906 when he was 10.
The City of Winnipeg Historic Buildings site also lists the Biollo brothers as the designers. Joseph Biollo may have also gone by the name of Olivo John Biollo, for an on-line Biollo family history site notes that Olivo Biollo and his brothers emigrated from Venice, Italy to Canada.
They settled in Winnipeg in about 1904 and later built the mansion they lived in on College Avenue.
The brothers built a grand three-storey brick home there, the family history notes, in which they and their families lived only a few short years. A photo of The Castle from the early 1900s showing its original magnificent grandeur is also displayed on the site.
The brothers dreamt big dreams. They ventured into the restaurant and hotel business but circumstances seemed against them. The hotel projects turned out unsuccessfully and the Olivo Biollo family moved to Rivers, Man., and then to Edmonton and finally to an unsettled region in Alberta where they helped found an Italian community they called Venice.
The Castle was built at a time when the area was mostly all prairie, wrote Gibbons. There used to be a large balcony on the front of the house on both the first and second floors. A huge three-storey tower still dominates the front corner.
Rabbi David Cantor and his family were the next long-time occupants of the home, living there for roughly 27 years according to Gibbons. The city’s Historic Buildings site says the Cantors lived there from 1920-1945.
After the Cantors, Martin Dudzik, a Polish bricklayer and painter, bought the mansion, modernized it and turned it into suites, seven in all.
Dudzik removed the second-floor balcony and made many other alterations. He advertised the house for sale in 1966.
Gibbons’ stories of other fascinating Winnipeg homes and the people who lived in them were collected and published in Stories Houses Tell in 1978.